More protests on Independence Day in Belarus
Belarus rights activists reported on Monday that legal proceedings against Independence Day protesters were starting in Minsk and Grodno on Monday. The detained activists are being charged with petty hooliganism, just like in all the previous protests organized by the “Revolution Through Social Networks” movement.
As Belarus marked its main holiday on July 3, the day Minsk was liberated from Nazi troops in 1944, the celebrations were held in a style that was reminiscent of the old Soviet holidays. Festivities included, among other things, the holding of a military parade and official demonstrations by “working collectives” – representatives of the people carefully selected and approved by the security services. Activists of the self-proclaimed
“Revolution Through Social Networks” scheduled another string of the silent protests on Sunday which were aimed at disrupting the mass celebrations and attracting attention to the alleged rights violations committed by the authorities.
The Belarusian opposition has recently adopted the tactic of silent protests in order not to give law enforcement agents any excuse to detain them. Instead of chanting or holding placards, they merely clap their hands. Previously, these types of demonstrations had been taking place on Wednesdays, but this time the organizers set their action to coincide with the national holiday. They attempted to disrupt President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s speech with an ovation immediately after he started. Police detained the activists as a result, thus disrupting the initial protest and the pre-planned picket on the square that had been aimed at discomposing the parade.
Furthermore, law enforcement agents had organized a multi-tier security cordon in the center of Minsk, which included checking the hand baggage of those who wanted to watch the parade and taking pictures of those who came. The internal ring of security only allowed people with invitations and accredited journalists access.
President Lukashenko touched on the subject of the Orange Revolution in a speech commemorating the holiday. Lukashenko said that the goal of those organizing the protests was to destroy the public trust and ultimately to put the Belarusian nation on its knees, annulling all the victories obtained since its independence. But Lukashenko assured the attendants that this would never happen.
Tight security at the parade prevented the visible display of discontent, though in the evening the opposition launched several more protest actions. According to the opposition’s accounts, about 1000 people gathered for a rally at the Railway Station Square. Police broke up the rally, detaining between 100 to 200 people. On at least one occasion, plain clothes security agents used tear gas against demonstrators. Police also detained several reporters from both local and foreign media outlets. All the journalists were taken to remote police stations and subsequently released after routine checks.
The last series of major protests which shook Belarus occurred on the day of the presidential election in December 2010. Then, thousands of protesters, headed by presidential candidates who had lost the race to Lukashenko, held a rally and tried to break into the building housing the election committee. Law enforcement agents dispersed the protesters and arrested many of them. Several former presidential candidates were later sentenced to terms in prison, while some received suspended sentences and others had to flee the country.